Re: Some question on Mark 6:35-39

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Sep 24 1995 - 07:50:01 EDT

I am taking the liberty of forwarding to the list the question put to me by
Timothy Smith and my reply. I am curious to learn what others think about
this matter of SUMPOSIA SUMPOSIA and also why it is that English
translators feel obliged to translate all the forms of
ANAKLINO/ANAKLINOMAI/ANAPIPTW referring to dining arrangement of guests as
"sit at table." Aren't we doing exactly what the gospel narrators
did?--translating the circumstances of Palestinian Jewish dining
arrangements into the terms with which their readers were more familiar?

At 8:21 PM 9/23/95, Timothy B. Smith wrote:
>Earlier you wrote:
>>At any rate, I'd translate, "He instructed them all to lie down
>>dinner-party-style." That is, I would understand SUMPOSIA SUMPOSIA as an
>>adverbial accusative qualifying the infinitive ANAKLINAI. I would assume
>>that the neuter plural SUMPOSIA here means what Latin TRICLINIA would
>>mean--and arrangement of nine or twelve guests lying down on figurative
>>couches arranged in a "C" pattern on the ground so that each group of 3 or
>>4 guests (in each of the 3 sides of the "C") face a common center and can
>>see each other.
>Do you know of any evidence that first century Jews made use of a TRICLINIA?
>I was under the impression, perhaps false, that the excavations on the
>western hill in Jerusalem in the 70s suggested that Jews ate formal meals
>around small round tables in groups of 3 or 4?

I don't know that they did, in fact, but I don't think that this part of
the narrative, at any rate, reflects historical fact. The gospel narratives
regularly use ANAKLINEIN/ANAKLINESQAI for "take a position to eat," and
this certainly does not mean "sit at table," though it gets translated that
way in English versions. Matthew's redaction of this same passage omits the
SUMPOSIA SUMPOSIA bit, but it has the crowd told "ANAPESEIN EPI THN GHN,"
which also does not mean "sit down." I think a good deal of the gospel
narrative has been shaped to the Hellenistic environments of its reception,
whatever its original form may have been: Mark may indicate a thatched roof
through which the paralytic was let down to Jesus in Capernaum, but Luke
makes it a tile roof. Mark has to explain his Jewish terminology to his
readers, who are evidently, for the most part, not expected to understand
it. Tradition says that the gospel of Mark was written in Rome; that may
not be true, but it does have some Latin loan words. So that is why I
believe Mark has told the story in a fashion that makes sense to his
readers. Obviously there are no TRICLINIA with cushioned couches here--Mark
says they are told to recline EPI TWi XLWRWi XORTWi. But the style of their
reclining thus indicated would seem to me to be in the pattern of dinner
guests in a TRICLINIUM (the singular form of the word in Latin). That's why
I said, "figurative couches."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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